The RCN welcomes the vindication of those SSP comrades who refused to go along with Sheridan’s attempt to use his public and celebrity position to extract money for personal gain. Whilst fully recognising the political damage and personal hurt to SSP members resulting from this debacle, the RCN opposes the jailing of our former SSP comrade Tommy Sheridan and looks forward to the day when such issues will be dealt with within the organisations of our class not those of the bourgeoisie. Lessons, however, must be learnt.
The rise of the Scottish Socialist Party to a position of influence and respect within the working class of Scotland, owes a great deal to the hard work and dedication of many comrades. No one can underplay the contribution made to this by Tommy Sheridan. He became the public face of the socialist movement in Scotland and inspired many people to become involved in class based activity. However, Tommy is a human being and is flawed like the rest of us. He grew to believe his own rhetoric; he courted the press on personal and family matters and set himself up to be the epitome of the clean-cut family man. He grew to believe that he was the SSP.
As we said at the time of the split within the SSP: The decision of Tommy Sheridan to pursue his court case against the unanimous advice of the SSP National Executive represented a rejection of inner party democracy and the accountability of party officials to the membership – an anti-party action, which has had dire consequences for the SSP. It was a gross political mistake. The subsequent decision to form a new organisation, Solidarity, on little other political basis than personal support for Tommy Sheridan, represented a continuation of this anti-party action and heralded one of the most serious mistakes made by socialists in post war Scottish politics. It placed personality and individual egos above principled politics. It weakened the working class in the face of the current ruling class offensive.
The decision of the SWP and CWI to back this split, further demonstrated their own sectarian agendas. These organisations’ lack of commitment to principled socialist unity has already been clearly shown by their recent separate ‘unity’ initiatives in England and Wales, and in Northern Ireland. The most immediate lesson for socialists is the incompatibility of trying to build a socialist organisation through promoting a celebrity leader. Furthermore, this has been highlighted, in the UK, not only by the example of Tommy Sheridan, but also of Derek Hatton (CWI/Militant), Arthur Scargill (Socialist Labour Party) Ken Livingstone (one-time Left independent) and George Galloway (Respect).
The consequences of the internecine warfare for the SSP and the working class movement have been catastrophic. Our credibility as an organisation, which can lead the struggles that face us and unite the left in Scotland, is severely diminished. However, we have survived and in pockets around Scotland have continued to work democratically and been leading fighters in various struggles. Now is the time to learn the lessons of this tragedy. If we do so, then we can possibly rebuild as an organisation and once more play our part in forging socialist unity and taking forward the fight for a progressive and equal society.
Although we hold Tommy Sheridan responsible for the initial damage to the SSP, we also recognise the potential for subsequent and continuing damage caused by the misguided actions of a number of our own comrades, some of these actions in direct contradiction to Party policy. To avoid this, we must:-
- Encourage debates where political differences and attempts to make SSP office bearers accountable for their actions are addressed without acrimony and personalised attacks, either by those criticising or those criticised, and with understanding.
- Apply our constitution equally to all members.
- Insist that all officers of the Party adhere to Party policy.
- Not elevate any individual or group to the position of
Great Leader/s. The party has democratic structures to ensure this does not happen and these must be adhered to.
- The membership of the party must be trusted. Some of the fallout from the court case could have been mitigated if the minutes of the EC had been dealt with in the normal manner and been made public to the membership. Only the RCN argued for the minutes to be open. This was a case of the party still treating Tommy Sheridan as more important than any other member and as such above the democratic scrutiny of the party.
- No resort to the bourgeois courts to decide political issues as per conference decisions at the October conference post the split.
Socialists should not go to the bourgeois courts for rulings on how we conduct ourselves. Such appeals should only be made to the democratic institutions of our class. What chance have socialists got of bringing about socialism in the face of capitalist economic and state power, if we have to run to their courts to sort out our problems in the here and now? Therefore, we need to re-emphasise the SSP Conference policy passed on October 20th, 2006.
- SSP members should avoid resort to the state’s courts when seeking redress for politically motivated attacks on their behaviour
- When SSP members are subjected to politically motivated attacks by the state or media, they should be able to call upon the support of the SSP National Executive to conduct a party campaign including the following tactics as deemed appropriate:-
- articles in the party’s press
- direct appeals to the trade union members in the state bodies and/or media responsible
- calls for boycott actions
- SSP members should not resort to the non-party media when making allegations against other SSP members. Such allegations should be brought initially before the appropriate party body at the level concerned with the right to appeal to a higher level, the ultimate appeal being the SSP Conference.
- The elected press officer should be responsible for day-to-day responses to the outside media, when members are under attack. The press officer is directly responsible, initially to the National Executive, then to the National Council, and finally to the National Conference.
We accept that individuals found themselves in exceptional circumstances. However, in line with the above decision, the George McNeilage tape should have been seen to be dealt with by the party. This has been damaging for the SSP amongst the broader labour and trade union movement. The end does not justify the means. Frances Curran’s use of the courts for a ruling being called a
scab by the Daily Record was also a political mistake and against Party policy. Party members who handed minutes to police or who gave affidavits to newspapers must now see that however well intentioned, their actions were not helpful and once more were against party policy.
Once again, it is our contention that we must bring the continuing self inflicted damage to an end. The mistakes we made must be acknowledged, breaches of policy on the part of office bearers should be addressed and we must show ourselves to be a democratically accountable party. Also, the Party must now seek to carry through the decision of the post-split 2006 SSP Conference which welcomes back former members without recriminations, especially now that they can clearly see the tragic implications of the misguided actions of Sheridan, Solidarity, SWP and CWI leaderships.
Principled unity is our strength. We have a duty to the working class and the cause of socialism to maintain socialist unity and to conduct ourselves in a combative, determined, confident, but friendly manner aimed at convincing thousands that the SSP’s principles and policies coincide with their interests. The future is ours, provided we collectively seize it.(Passed overwhelmingly 20th October 2006)
We must also try to win back the largest group of all – those former members who left the SSP and did not join Solidarity. They have raised criticisms, not only about egotism of Sheridan and the unattractive sectarianism and splitting tactics of the SWP and CWI, but also of some of the badly misjudged actions of the SSP in attempting to deal with these problems. This group currently forms an important bridge to those wider sections of the working class whom we need to win over once more to principled, socialist unity.